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review 2019-01-17 19:57
Fawkes - Nadine Brandes

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Gorgeous cover (I admit the cover + the title are what drew me to the book in the first place), and also an interesting take on historical events by showing them under the colours (see what I did there) of magic rather than religion. In this alternate early 17th-century world, people are able to bond with a specific colour, and exert control over items of this colour through the wearing of a mask. The conflict arises from how people view the use of colours: Keepers (the ‘Protestants’) believe that a person should only master one colour and not give in to the ‘White Light’ that governs them all, lest greed devours them and twists their powers to nefarious ends; while Igniters (the ‘Catholics’) believe that listening to the White Light, and controlling more than one colour, is the way to go. Both factions are in conflict not only because of these views, but because of a plague that turns people to stone, with each camp blaming the other for the advent of this mysterious illness.

Enters our protagonist and point of view character, Thomas Fawkes, son of the (now) infamous Guy Fawkes, who’s been struck by this very Stone Plague and can’t wait until he gets a mask of his own, learns to master a colour, and hopefully manages to heal himself, or at least make sure the plague will stay dormant in him and never spread further than his eye. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and as he finds himself reunited with his father, the latter offers him a place in a plot meant to blow up the King and Parliament (as in, literally blow up, re: Guy Fawkes, Bonfire Night, and all that).

So. Very, very interesting premise, and I really loved reading about the London that is the backdrop in this novel—not least because I actually go very often in the areas depicted here, and I enjoy retracing in my mind the characters’ steps in streets that I know well enough. Little winks are found here and there, too, such as Emma’s favourite bakery on Pudding Lane, or a stroll to the Globe. It may not seem much, but it always makes me smile.

The story was a slow development, more focused on the characters than on a quick unfolding of the plot. I don’t know if the latter is a strong or a weak point, because I feel it hinges on the reader’s knowledge of the actual Gunpowder Plot: if you know about it, then I think what matters more is not its outcome, but the journey to it, so to speak. If you don’t know it, though, the novel may in turn feel weak in that regard, by not covering it enough. I didn’t mind this slow development, since it allowed for room for the side plot with Emma and the Baron’s household, and I liked Emma well enough. I still can’t decide whether her secret felt genuine or somewhat contrived, but in the end, it didn’t matter so much, because she was a kickass person, with goals of her own, and actually more interesting than Thomas.

As a side note: yes, there is romance here. Fortunately, no gratuitous kiss and sex scenes that don’t bring anything to the story and only waste pages. In spite of the blurb that mentions how Thomas will have to choose between the plot and his love (= usually, a sure recipe for catastrophe in YA, with characters basically forgetting the meaning of things like “priorities” or “sense of responsibility”), it is more subtle than that. Thomas at least also starts considering other people being involved, such as, well, the three hundred Members of Parliament meant to go up in flames along with the King. Casualties, and all that…

Bonus points for White Light, who we don’t see much of, but was overall engaging and somewhat funny in a quirky way. I just liked its interventions, period.

Where I had more trouble with the story was Thomas himself, who was mostly whiny and obsessed with getting his mask. All the time. You’d get to wonder why his father trusted him and invited him to be part of the plot in the first place. Often enough, he came as self-centered and constantly wavering in his beliefs. While I can totally understand that the prospect of his plague suddenly spreading left him in a state of constant, nagging fear, and therefore prone to focus on this more than on other people’s interests, the way he hesitated between which way to pursue (stay faithful to the plot, or listen to the White Light, or shouldn’t he listen to his father, but then are his father’s beliefs really his own as well, etc.) was a bit tedious to go through. Good thing Emma was here to set his sight straights, and by this, I don’t mean showing him the light (OK, OK, I should stop with the puns now), but making him aware that her circumstances are more complicated than he thinks, in his own ‘privileged’ way, even though his being plagued does contribute to a common understanding of being immediately rejected because of what one looks like.

Also, let’s be honest, Guy wasn’t exactly Father of the Year either, and the story didn’t focus much on developing his ties with Thomas. They were united through the plot, but that was pretty much all, when this could’ve been a wonderful opportunity to reunite them differently, in deeper ways, too. There just wasn’t enough about him, about his personality, and in turn, this lessened the impact of Thomas’ decisions when it came to him.

Another issue for me was the magic system. I got the broad lines, and the reason for the Keepers/Igniters divide, but apart from that, we weren’t shown how exactly this magic works. It is, I’m sure, more subtle than simply voicing an order to a specific colour, and there seems to be a whole undercurrent of rules to it, that aren’t really explained. For instance, why can the masks only be carved by the biological father or mother of a person, and not by an adoptive parent (or even by anyone else)?

Mention in passing as well to language: sometimes, it veered into too modern territory (I mean 20/21st-century modern English specifically, not ‘but Shakespeare’s English was technically Modern English, too’ ;)). I think it was especially prevalent in Thomas’ discussions with White Light, and I found this jarring.

Conclusion: 3 stars, as I still liked the story overall, as well as the world depicted in it, despite the questions I still have about it. I was hoping for a stronger story, though.

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review 2019-01-04 00:04
My first book of the year...sadly an unfortunate start to my 2019.
Devils Unto Dust - Emma Berquist


๏ ๏ ๏  Book Blurb ๏ ๏ ๏ 


Ten years ago, a horrifying disease began spreading across the West Texas desert. Infected people—shakes—attacked the living and created havoc and destruction. No one has ever survived the infection. Daisy Wilcox, known as Willie, has been protecting her siblings within the relatively safe walls of Glory, Texas. When Willie’s good-for-nothing father steals a fortune from one of the most dangerous shake-hunters in town, she finds herself on the hook for his debt. With two hunters, including the gruff and handsome Ben, to accompany her, she sets out across the desert in search of her father. But the desert is not kind to travelers, and not everyone will pass through alive.







๏ ๏ ๏  My Review ๏ ๏ ๏


Someone, somewhere said this was similar to Dread Nation...for some reason, I thought no way could it be that boring...but it turns out they were right...this is, unfortunately, quite similar to that book. 


I found myself not really caring if the Zombie-like creatures called "Shakes" bit or turned the characters or not.  That coupled with a slow-moving, slightly underdeveloped plot, and the unrelenting harshness of this alternative historical and Devils Unto Dust failed to wow me in any significant way.


๏ ๏ ๏  MY RATING ๏ ๏ ๏ 









๏ Breakdown of Ratings ๏ 


Plot⇝ 2.5/5
Main Characters⇝ 2.7/5
Secondary Characters⇝ 2.5/5
The Feels⇝ 2/5
Addictiveness⇝ 2.7/5
Theme or Tone⇝ 3/5
Flow (Writing Style)⇝ 2/5
Backdrop (World Building)⇝ 2.5/5
Originality⇝ 3/5
Ending⇝ 2.7/5 Cliffhanger⇝ Nah...
๏ ๏ ๏
Book Cover⇝ I really like it...more than I like the book, anyway.
Setting⇝ Texas (in an alternative history, following sometime after the Civil War)
Source⇝ Audiobook (Library)

๏ ๏ ๏


๏ ๏ ๏ Links ๏ ๏ ๏


๏ Kindle eBook | Audiobook ๏

๏ Add to Goodreads | Add to Booklikes ๏


Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.




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url 2018-09-20 05:51
The Personal, the Political, and the Giant Robots: Peter Tieryas’ Mecha Samurai Empire
Mecha Samurai Empire - Peter Tieryas

Though the middle is maybe a little slack, this is an excellent bildungsroman in the alt-history suggested by The Man in the High Castle, run half a century later and into the life of one small boy who aims to pilot one big ass robot. 

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text 2018-08-28 16:42
The conceit in American-authored alternate histories of the Second World War
The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick

Last night I decided to binge-watch season 2 of Amazon's The Man in the High Castle. If you're unfamiliar with the show, it's based on a 1962 novel by Philip K. DIck premised on the idea that the United States lost the Second World War. With its defeat the U.S. is a divided and occupied land, with the Japanese in charge of the West Coast and the Germans ruling everything east of the Great Plains. The novel itself is one of my all time favorites and so far I'm enjoying the show (with a caveat regarding the direction they're taking it regarding the central twist). But watching it has highlighted something that has long bugged me about alternate histories of the war written by Americans.


Simply put, it's the conceit is that the Germany couldn't be defeated without the United States. It's inherent in the majority of U.S.-centric alternate history stories, including Dick's: without America's involvement in the war, the Nazis roll over Europe and become the racist empire everybody not associated with our current administration loves to hate. There are two things I find annoying about this, the first being that it's bogus to anyone with more than a passing history of the war. As much as Americans may hate to admit it, but the Second World War was decided on the Eastern Front: it was the Soviets who were key to destroying the Nazis' empire, not the Americans. From the summer of 1941 onward the bulk of the German war machine was engaged in the Soviets, who ground it down over the course of four years; three out of every four German soldiers killed during the war died on the Eastern Front. While the U.S. aided in this, both through their Lend-Lease program and their assaults on Germany from the west, absent these the Soviet victory was still the probable outcome.

This would be a pedantic complaint were it not for how this reflects our devaluing of the costs involved in this. We don't know exactly how many Soviet soldiers died fighting the Nazis, but the conservative estimate is 8.7 million people. By contrast, the United States lost 139,380 soldiers fighting against the Germans in Europe, which makes for a ratio of 80 Soviet soldiers killed for every American who died in combat. And that Soviet figure is just for the men and women killed in combat: the official total of war dead is 26.6 million, and that's regarded as a conservative estimate as well.


Now, I get why American writers do this, as they're writing for their audience. But it's dangerous in that it perpetuates a conceit that is deeply offensive to lots of people in the world, both the ones who sacrificed and the descendants of those who did. The thing of it is, it doesn't take a huge stretch of the imagination to gin up a scenario that isn't premised on the belief that our participation in the war was indispensable to Germany's defeat. Instead, though, we bask in the conceit that our novice soldiers were the ones who knocked down the Nazis — and then we wonder why the world despises us for it.

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review 2018-08-23 10:57
Certain Dark Things - Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Certain Dark Things: A Novel - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I'd been wanting to read Certain Dark Things since I first heard about it, so when it went on sale recently on Kindle I snapped up a copy and wasn't disappointed. I'm not really a massive lover of vampire stories but the premise of this, set in a present-day Mexico City in a world where various kinds of vampires are known, intrigued me enough to get me reading and the quality of the story-telling did the rest...Another positive is the fact that this is a stand-alone story in a world of trilogies and series!


Anyway, on to the story itself - it's told from the perspective of a number of different people and this is often a place where books fall down for me. Domingo is a teenage boy who works as a garbage collector in Mexico City, just about getting by after a childhood spent running errands for a local drug dealer. His path crosses that of Atl, who looks like a teenage girl but is actually the last survivor of a clan of vampires which can trace their lineage back to the Aztecs. Atl is on the run from the (different kind of) vampires who killed her family and is doing a bit of a crap job of hiding given that there aren't supposed to be any vampires in the city and she also has a massive genetically-engineered dog by her side. 


On the other side of things are Nick, spoilt younger son of the clan hunting Atl - his kind of vampire can enslave humans with their blood, while Atl's kind have other abilities. Completing our roster of point of view characters is Ana, a detective in the local police whose abilities are scorned by her bosses even though she comes from 'vampire territory' outside the city and has more idea what to do if faced with one of them.


The writer drip-feeds enough information about the world-building into the storyline along the way that it feels organic rather than forced. This is, in short, also a world that makes sense; close enough to our own to feel familiar but also with convincing explanations for the things that are different. It shouldn't probably come as any surprise that it's a bit gory in parts, given that it's about vampires, but it didn't feel gratuitous. I'm not sure Certain Dark Things is something I'll want to read again but it definitely makes me want to check out more of this author's work! 

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